We’re still working on learning how to study the Bible for all it’s worth. This blog post will look a little different, because I made two videos explaining my observation practice on the Daniel passage and three videos showing how to use the Blue Letter Bible App. Therefore, it’s more content heavy on the video side of things. As clearly as I may try to explain myself in writing, I felt the Bible study practice needed more explanation that could only come in other ways. I hope what I share will be helpful.
Both sets of videos contain not only practical things, but a lot of my philosophy about Bible study and the wisdom I’ve gleaned over the years.
This will be the first time using this app to record videos on my phone. Apparently, I had to record in landscape in order for the recording to fill the screen. Sorry. Next time. As time goes on, I plan to work out the kinks.
Instead of being in a separate section, the Reflection and Application Questions can be found at the bottom of the main blog post.
BIBLE STUDY RESOURCES
This Observation Practice works in conjunction with the videos explaining what I’ve done.
ANYONE CAN COOK AND ANYONE CAN STUDY THE BIBLE!
He twitched his nose and whiskers as he lightly pattered over the cobblestone streets of the city. The smell of wine, cheese and onion soup wafting in the air would fill that little nose and send his senses spinning. His family scrounged on garbage; he’d savor French cuisine. More than that, he’d find a way to create the dishes that swirled in his imagination: colors, taste combinations, a dash of this, a sprig of that. After all, there was no better place for a rat with culinary dreams other than Paris, France. If this storyline sounds familiar, then you’ve probably watched Ratatouille. His inspiration came through the gourmet chef, Auguste Gusteau, who’s motto was “Anyone can cook!” Chef Gusteau gave him the permission to dream and now that the door was open, he’d scurry in and take advantage of it.
Strange how this saying came from a man at the pinnacle of his profession as a gourmet chef. Having written a book of the same name, it goes to show the more you know about a subject, the less elitist you CAN become, given humility and the right heart attitude. He didn’t have to be “King of the Mountain.” Instead, he helped pioneer mountain climbing trails with the necessary guides and tools to help anyone climb that mountain. His belief in “anyone” and “everyone” was so strong, he even inspired a rat from nowhere, without a culinary education, to sniff out the finest, freshest ingredients, to refine his palette, to daringly pursue different food combinations, to create, and, perhaps the bravest thing of all, to try and to keep on trying.
At the beginning of the movie, Remy (the future gourmet chef) takes in Chef Gousteau’s words from a television broadcast:
“You must be imaginative, strong-hearted. You must try things that may not work, and you must not let anyone define your limits because of where you come from. Your only limit is your soul. What I say is true– anyone can cook… but only the fearless can be great!” –Chef Gusteau
Obviously, we have to tweak this quote a little to apply it to Bible study. Our imaginations can’t lead us to go beyond God’s word to misinterpret it. We have to be careful to be sound in our methods. But, the point he’s making is huge: break out of your limitations and take a risk. He also encourages us to try without being afraid of making mistakes.
God can’t steer a parked car. In other words, be willing to attempt the grand pursuit of studying the Bible, trusting God will help you make course corrections as needed. The Holy Spirit is our guide and the tools are at our reach!
So, what are we waiting for?
GOD NEVER MEANT BIBLE STUDY TO BE SO COMPLEX
My opinion gathered from looking at various resources online: so many Bible study resources out there make Bible study seem FORBIDDING* (look at definition) by being too complex, involved, complicated and exacting.
*forbidding (definition): such as to make approach or passage difficult or impossible (merriam-webster.com)
Yes, we want to respect the process and be as careful as possible, since it’s the word of God. But, NO, we don’t want to make it so FORBIDDING, that people give up even before they start. They may be so anxious about getting it right, or intimidated that they don’t know how to use the tools correctly or, maybe, they don’t think they have the mind for it.
No, no, no, no, NO! God didn’t want any of this for His people! He simply wanted people to read the Bible, study the Bible soundly and know and understand Him better.
OVERCOMING CENTURIES OF ELITIST MENTALITY
Tragically, for a good portion of church history, the Bible was only in the hands of a very few. The Roman Catholic Church largely interpreted the Scriptures for the people. History tells us that many of their interpretations fell into serious error, thereby leading people astray. Distorting the gospel message, purgatory, selling indulgences and widespread persecution of the Jews were only a handful of these errors. Throughout many centuries, the common people, sincere in their faith and wanting to please God, didn’t always know what God wanted for them. Without the Bible in their own language, they were often at the mercy of the Catholic church’s Biblical interpretation on any given subject.
In a similar way, Bible illiteracy, one of the greatest tragedies of our day, sets up the same scenario.
There may be a copy of the Bible on someone’s bookshelf, but it remains largely unread and, therefore, largely unknown. For every person who “rightly divides the word of God,” many others have used the word of God in wrong ways to fulfill an agenda or deceive the people, whether they realize it or not. Just like in earlier centuries, people still fall prey to the misinterpretation and misuse of God’s word. Why? Because they don’t know what it says.
They had an elitist attitude back then. Only certain people had the authority, wisdom and knowledge to interpret the Scriptures and to teach the Word of God.
That “elitist mentality” may still exist today in various forms, including the approach of many to Bible study methods.
One of the most severe statements Jesus ever made to the teachers of the law and Pharisees (the Bible teachers and religious leaders of the day):
“You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” –Matthew 23:13
As we know, “teachers of the law and Pharisees” don’t have to be first century Jews. Yes, those words were spoken by Jesus to that particular group, but their example also exists as a type and a shadow of the religiosity which will come in the future. Anyone given to a hyper-religious, legalistic mentality can come from any religion, including Christianity.
For that reason, we have to be wise and discerning, because it’s just like the enemy of our souls to make Bible study seem as unapproachable and difficult as possible. If the devil can get us to so shy away from studying the Bible and, possibly, not even attempt it, he’s won a great victory in our lives.
When he lies, he speaks his native language.
- “You can’t do it. It’s too difficult.” (LIE!)
- “You don’t have the mind for it.” (LIE!)
- “You may get it wrong. After all, this is the word of God, so you better not try.” (LIE!)
- “What’s the hope of you accurately interpreting the Bible? Let the experts deal with those things.” (LIE!)
We don’t have to buy into the enemy’s lies and manipulations!
Please take Chef Gousteau’s encouragement! Please take my encouragement also: ANYONE can study the Bible and can study it accurately and well!
BIBLE STUDY METHODS: GENERAL CATEGORIES
As a brief review, remember we went over the steps of Bible study methods last week:
- Observation– What does it say?
- Interpretation– What does it mean?
- Correlation– What does it say elsewhere about the same subject?
- Application– What does it mean personally for me?
INTERPRETATION: DIGGING INTO THE PASSAGE
An important part of Bible study methods is to try to better understand the people, places and times the Bible references in any given passage. We further investigate these interpretive categories, due to our modern day gap in time, space, language and culture from the original audience. These barriers must be overcome to obtain a clearer understanding of any given passage. We need to find what the books of the Bible meant to the original audience to understand more clearly what was being communicated. (Most of it can be found in the context of the passage.)
In order to find out what the text means through the interpretation process, we need to look deeper into certain areas:
- GRAMMAR AND LANGUAGE
- + CORRELATION
WHY IS CONTEXT SO IMPORTANT
We’ve already dealt with this part of the process. I placed it in the category of observation instead of interpretation. One can do it either way. For me, it makes more sense to put it in the category of observation. Accomplishing this step is a large part of the process. If I can get a firm grasp of the context, then it’ll answer some of the other areas of interpretation. Some might say context can cover as much as 75% of the process of interpretation.
- A simplified way to explain its importance.
- SET the table, please.
- I have a new SET of dishes in the cupboard.
- Everything’s all SET. (Meaning everything’s ready to go.)
- The police SET me up, which is why I’m in jail right now.
- If she wins the next tennis game, she’ll win the whole SET.
- The sun just SET over the horizon.
What if someone asked you to define the word “set,” but didn’t give you the context of the sentence?
CORRELATION: WEAVING THE TAPESTRY OF THE WORD INTO ONE WHOLE FABRIC
Some people fold CORRELATION into the process of INTERPRETATION, whereas others leave it out as a separate step. I combine the two steps, because for me it makes sense to do it this way, along with making it easier. Whichever way you do it, the important thing is to see it as an individual step and to practice it as you study the Bible.
Remember, correlation is the process of looking at other verses and passages through “cross-references” to see what the Bible says about this same subject in other places. Correlation can yield more insights than what alone can be gathered from the target passage. We also need to keep in mind something called “progressive revelation.” As the name implies, this term basically means that from Genesis to Revelation and throughout the line of Israelite and human history, God has unfolded more of his revelation on various topics.
Correlation also shows how God’s revelation is spread throughout the Bible. Topics and themes are not just located in one place, but in many places. If you think about how the Bible is a collection of books written over many centuries by many different authors, this unity is a miracle in and of itself. When we gather God’s revelation on a certain topic from Genesis to Revelation, it can be said we are looking at the “whole counsel of God” on a matter.
EXAMPLE OF CORRELATION AND PROGRESSIVE REVELATION
I share an example below of God’s “progressive revelation” regarding animal sacrifice and the (Passover) lamb of God. This list also speaks to the power of correlation in understanding what the Bible is saying on any given topic.
1. After Adam and Eve sinned, they tried to cover themselves with fig leaves. God, knowing how these false coverings were inadequate, killed an animal and clothed them. (Genesis 3, especially verses 7 and 21)
2. During the time of the Exodus from Egypt, each Hebrew family killed an animal and brushed the doorposts with its blood to keep them protected from the death angel who would come to kill all the firstborn in Egypt. This is known as the original Passover (because the death angel “passed over” the Israelites and their families who were obedient to this command). The unblemished animal would be known as the “Passover lamb.” (Exodus 12:1-29)
3. Later, after Moses gave God’s law and instructions from Mount Sinai, the priests would slay (unblemished) animals as an atonement for man’s sins. (Leviticus 4)
4. In the New Testament, John the Baptist called Jesus “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)
5. During Passover, three years later, Jesus was killed for the sins of the world. (any gospel account)
6. In the book of Hebrews, it states Jesus, our high priest, entered the Holy of Holies of a “greater and more perfect tabernacle,” with His blood to pay for our eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9, especially 1-14)
7. In God’s throne room, the “Lamb, looking as if it had been slain,” would be the only one worthy to take the scroll from God’s hand. (Revelation 5, especially verse 6) This scroll would include “the official title deed of the Earth” and God’s end-time plan for the Earth.
8. The Bible confirms Jesus’ “right to judge” later in the book of Revelation, when “the wrath of the Lamb” brings judgment to the inhabitants of the Earth. (Revelation 6:16)
9. Later, we see a multitude from every people group “before the throne and the Lamb” purchased and made white by Jesus’ blood. (Revelation 7:9-17)
10. Towards the Bible’s end, we find out Jesus was slain from the creation of the world. (Revelation 13:8)
Since I spent a fair amount of time on my recordings and my Bible study assignment, I want to take these blog posts more slowly. I’ll cover more in depth the other interpretive categories in next week’s blog post. These assignments are what you’d call “practice runs.” My university had the motto, “Learn by doing,” which is what we’re attempting to do right now. If you ever wanted to dive into Bible study, this would probably be a good time, because I’ll be giving a lot of instruction, examples and explanation on this subject.
Please consider doing one, many or all of the following:
SPECIAL NOTE: View all videos from this blog post if you can. They explain a lot about Bible study.
- View the videos on the Observation process.
- #1 + Either rework the observation practice you did or do another one on a different passage.
- #1 + Either reword your circles of context or do another set of circles of context on a different passage.
- View the videos on how to use the Blue Letter Bible App.
- #4 + Look into the Greek words in Acts 17:11 to find out the deeper meaning of the passage using the Blue Letter Bible App.
Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. –Acts 17:11
- #4 + Study the surrounding chapter of Acts 17:11 and ask observation questions, where you would find the answers in various Bible study tools: Bible dictionary, Bible encyclopedia, Bible atlas or maps, etc.
- #4 + Do a topical Bible study on a specific word by using a concordance. For example, look up the word “love” and how it’s used in different ways in the Bible. Or you can make your range smaller by “looking for love” in only the New Testament. Remember… the Greeks have a handful of Greek words that can all be translated “love,” but they signify different kinds of love, so you’ll have to look into the original Greek language to see what the writer more specifically meant.
- #4 + Do a word search on any topic of interest in the Bible. (Extra: See if you can see a progressive revelation of that topic unfolding from Genesis to Revelation)
- Challenge yourself and do a study on a passage using all of these various tools and resources.
- Read last week’s post on observation, as well as this week’s post again.
- Take time to pray and work through any lies you’ve believed regarding Bible study. It can be lies surrounding your own ability to study the Bible or lies surrounding Bible study in general.
- Why is the Bible illiteracy of today so tragic? What can result from it?
Next week, I’ll most likely finish the interpretation process for Acts 17:11, the passage about the Berean Jews. We can go over what I did, so you can have a clear example of my interpretation of the passage using the Bible study methods. You can try to do some of it on your own using the Bible study tools and resources discussed in the videos on the Blue Letter Bible App. Just know that I’m challenging myself right alongside of you. And, trust me, it’s stretching me in some very good ways.
Next week, I may assign as “homework” the task of interpreting our other passage: Daniel 1:3-8.